At the start of the year, Eric 1Key slapped a new tongue-twister on his fans – “Expericment”, but I will return to that shortly.
The slam poet, rapper and blogger has cultivated another parallel reputation over the years – ranting.
So much so that, day in, day out, he has to contend with the frequent question: “Eric, why do you like to criticize?” and this usually comes from foes, fans, and friends alike.
Eric rants about everything – literally; through his well established social media handles (a personal blog, Facebook, and Twitter), not to mention his poetry and rap music –the main vessels of artistic expression.
“I’m an artiste, fine, but I’m also a human being. Before the poetry I was living – I’m a father, I’m a dude like everybody else. Some artistes should stop going about like superstars because if you don’t connect with your audience then that’s it,” he explains his social media persona.
He thinks that it’s because other artists do not interact with their audiences that the media comes up with gossip stories to fill the void.
“Have you seen any gossip written on me?” he asks: “It’s because I’m there. I do my branding myself. Before a show I blog heavily about it. I tell you about the process and the progress.”
He hates fielding what he terms ‘petty questions’ from local journalists and is actually not new to social media wars with local scribes.
At local arts events, it’s not uncommon to hear him ask journalists why they do not write a personal blog if they are really passionate about the arts.
He heaps scorn on fellow artists who are brand ambassadors for corporate companies, a job he has done before.
“These guys (brand ambassadors) earn about Rw f 30,000 worth of airtime and maybe a 50,000 retainer per month and these are actually big artistes. Then you can’t do anything for any other brand for a year, and they promise they will do your shows. In the end you realize you have only one show. Then they put your banners on your stage,” he told me during this interview at the Rwanda Arts Initiative (RAI) offices in Kimihurura.
He also accuses local arts practitioners of complacence and a culture of working from individual cocoons.
“When was the last time you saw any of our local celebrities at a show that was not theirs or to which they were not invited?” he asks rhetorically.
“Rwandans we love comfort big time. But comfort doesn’t take you anywhere. Instead it makes you stay where you are. Once in the comfort zone there’s nothing you learn because you don’t have challenges.”
The last we had heard from 1Key before the Expericment concerts was his repeated remarks on how fed up he was with ‘performing for free’, or as he put it more sarcastically, ‘performing for exposure’.
The Expericment therefore came as his own response to this dilemma of ‘performing for exposure’.
“Expericment is a coinage that has ‘Eric’ in it, so it’s my property. Anybody that comes on board is either a partner or somebody that I invite but it’s mine,” he explains.
It was also his way of establishing a more intimate relationship with his fans, and elevating his name to a core and distinct brand.
Basically it was testing the waters to see what business model could work out, and 1Key stretched his imagination and creativity to the limit.
In all, he did four Expericment shows staged at different venues in Kigali, each with a different theme and concept; from politics to sex to identity.
The first Expericment in March was titled ‘Evolution’-basically a journey back in time tracing his artistry through the acapella, poetry, and rap music stages of his musical development.
He further used costume to accentuate the story, changing them right there on stage. First is a young Eric 1Key, the student in khaki shorts, then he graduates to the corporate class, on to Hip Hop, before he matures into the Eric IKey with that ubiquitous self-promoting T-shirt.
“I also wanted to introduce different ways of payment. My idea was that you buy the album and come to the show because my album was on sale in digital stores. The idea was that this money would be saved up until after the final Expericment and we’d do a big show.”
To attend one had to apply online. People actually filled forms stating who they were and what they do or what company they work for. They also wrote the songs they wanted to hear.
At the second show (Expericment 2.0, at the Impact Hub in Kigali on May 28th) he introduced a mobile money payment system. This time the artist performed with his backup band.
“I asked people how much they were willing to pay, and the amount varied between Rwf 7,000 and 10,000, but then I thought 10,000 was a little on the higher side so I went for 8,000. More than 50 percent bought tickets in pre-sales.
That showed me that people actually trusted me with their money. At the entrance I had a mobile money guy and people would still pay and the money comes to my phone. I cleared everyone –sound and musicians.”
The third show at The Manor Hotel on July 8th was a little more different; this time it was provocatively named the Sexpericment, and was dedicated to sensuality and celebrating women. To hype the show, 1Key came up with the poster of a ladies’ underwear hanging from a microphone but this did not sit well with some of his (especially female) fans.
“It’s funny that actually women had boycotted it at first because of the underwear. They thought it was demeaning, but it was about break ups, make ups, relationships, sex, all wrapped in one show.”
“In the end I auctioned the underwear and got about 230,000 for it,” he reveals.
But why Expericment of all names, I still ask.
“Because I haven’t started yet. This is just me trying to see what works here, and I realized it’s going to take some time. So I had to step out. These basic things I’m doing as an artiste seem like wow … yet it’s basic things every artiste should be doing. I mean, you’re an artiste, how do you expect people to know your album?”
And 1Key will stop at nothing to self-promote: “Sometimes I do jam sessions in my house,” he reveals with a chuckle; “I make a bonfire, invite friends over, buy brochettes and drinks, we play music, laugh and they go home.
Looking back, he reckons the first Expericment was the biggest. “First of all it was my first time to play with my band, and these are individuals I watched play in different places and I took them up one by one. Since they were great musicians it was very easy to connect.”
So, did the Expericment pay off? 1Key insists it did.
“Right now if you asked me to come and perform I will tell you I cannot take less than Rwf500,000 and if you want me to come with my band I can’t go below 800,000. People want to pay you with exposure, and the only way to beat that is to show them you have exposure which I now have. So artists need to document their work. Instead of a huge stage we invest in documenting our story because this is what we are going to sell.”
I ask the artist to wrap up his artistic journey so far and he says: “Art is supposed to comfort the discomforted, and discomfort the comforted. So basically what I speak, the privileged ones don’t like it, but the low classes like it. So I get some and I lose some.”